Endodontics is the branch of dentistry that deals with diseases of the tooth's pulp. The pulp is found in the center of the tooth and in canals (called root canals) inside the root of each tooth. Pulp includes connective tissue, nerves and blood vessels. Pulp nourishes the tooth when it first emerges through the gum. Once the tooth matures, the pulp can be removed without destroying the tooth. That's because each tooth also is nourished by a blood supply in the gums.
Removing the pulp is called endodontic treatment, but it is often referred to as root canal treatment. Many people refer to pulp removal as "having a root canal." Root canal treatments are quite common. In the United States, they save about 24 million teeth each year.
If root canal treatment is not done, an infected tooth may have to be extracted. It is better to keep your natural teeth if you can. If a tooth is missing, neighboring teeth can drift out of line. Keeping your natural teeth also helps you to avoid other treatments, such as implants or bridges. Also, if you ignore an infected or injured tooth the infection can spread to other parts of your body.
Having root canal treatment on a tooth does not mean that the tooth will need to be pulled out in a few years. Once a tooth is treated, and restored with a crown, it often will last the rest of your life.
After root canal treatment, the tooth becomes brittle and can easily fracture due to the lack of moisture resulted from removing the pulp tissues which contains the nerve and the blood supplies to the tooth. It is very essential after root canal treatment, to have the tooth restored with a crown to protect it from breaking in the future.
Why would I need an endodontic procedure (i.e. root canal)?
Endodontic treatment (root canal) is necessary when the pulp, the soft tissue inside the root canal, becomes inflamed or infected. The inflammation or infection can have a variety of causes:
- Deep decay
- Repeated dental procedures on the tooth
- A crack or chip in the tooth
- An injury to a tooth may cause pulp damage even if the tooth has no visible chips or cracks
If pulp inflammation or infection is left untreated, it can cause pain or lead to an abscess.
What are the signs of needing endodontic treatment?
Signs to look for include:
- Moderate to sever Pain (Toothache)
- lingering sensitivity to heat or cold
- Tenderness to touch and chewing
- Discoloration of the tooth
- Swelling and drainage
- Radiating pain from one area of the mouth to another
- Toothache that wakes you up in the middle of the night
- Tenderness in the lymph nodes as well as nearby bone and gingival tissues
- Sometimes, however, there are no symptoms.
How does endodontic treatment save the tooth?
The Dentist removes the inflamed or infected pulp, carefully cleans and shapes the inside of the canal, a channel inside the root, then fills and seals the space. Afterwards, your dentist will place a crown on the tooth to protect and restore it to full function. After restoration, the tooth continues to function like any other tooth.